Fear of failure

How often have you heard the sentence “If you don’t try, you’ll never know”? Most people have experienced at least once that they will not engage in a project, task, study or job because they are afraid of failure. At that point, fear prevailed and led to an underestimation of one’s own abilities. It’s easier to stay within your own safety zone and imagine what it would be like if it were. But, it often happens that these opportunities, seemingly unattainable and paralyzing, can lead to great life decisions.

The fear of failure is interpreted differently because everyone sees a particular situation in a specific way. In this case, the fear of failure may be mobilizing for some, while for others it may be discouraging. In general, the fear of failure is when we allow that fear to stop us doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals. Also, due to various causes, such as childhood trauma, frequent subjective failures or reactions from the significant others, this fear can be difficult-to-change personality trait.

How does this fear manifest itself?

Some of the symptoms that a person may experience is aversion try new things or involve in more challenging projects which leads to the person lurking in their own safety zone. Furthermore, a possible symptom is self-sabotage such as procrastination, anxiety, or difficulty at setting goals. Low self-esteem is also one of the symptoms where a person “charts” that he is not worth or good enough.

How to overcome the fear of failure?

One way to overcome fear is to set goals SMART. This technique allows to define the path a person wants to take. It analyzes the steps needed to achieve the goal and, most importantly, motivates the process itself to achieve the goal. The association between goal setting and fear of failure was examined in one study in which they sought to encourage and strengthen young athletes (Wilkman et al., 2014). It has been shown that despite the fact that the fear of failure is a relatively stable personality trait, it still changes depending on the goal set. In view of this, the group that had a specific goal set for twelve weeks had incomparable less fear of failure at the end of treatment as opposed to the group that did not set goals (Wilkman et al., 2014). An interesting conclusion is that the fear of failure is not sustainable in time if it is not substantiated with goal setting (Wilkman et al., 2014). Which means it’s essential to be persistent and repeatedly strive to challenge your own capabilities to lessen the fear of failure.

In addition to goal setting, cognitive restructuring of thoughts can also be a useful technique. Other words, re-examining imposed thoughts that often have a negative connotation. For example, when a goal is not achieved, it can be seen as “lost” or “learned”. If you focus on learning, then you have learned how strong you were in that situation, how much help did you get from others, or how much more do you need to achieve what you wanted.

To help with applying cognitive restructuring technique, we have already written to you in previous blog posts on the topic of cognitive distortion. In addition, the NAOMI app can further help you with this. Through short exercises NAOMI app helps you to recognize an error in thinking that bothers you and how through recognition gradually change that error into a positive tone. Be patient and allow your thoughts to shift focus. If you come across a thought that encouraged you at the time, feel free to write it down in a diary of motivational statements in the NAOMI app to be a valuable reminder when you find it difficult to motivate yourself.



Wikman, J. M., Stelter, R., Melzer M.,. Hauge, M.-L.T & Elbe, A.-M. (2014). Effects of goal setting on the fear of failure in young elite athletes. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.


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